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Harry Finer

(1888-1955) – Convalescent pilot

During the war the Heligan estate was used by the Royal Flying Corps as a convalescent home for officers. One such officer was Harry Finer who suffered a head injury, was x-rayed at a London hospital and had a steel plate fitted in his skull. He survived the war.

Credit: Lost Gardens of Heligan and Peter Finer

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At the beginning of the First World War Heligan’s squire was Jack Tremayne. In due course he left the mansion and moved to Croan, another Tremayne property, near Wadebridge. Heligan then became a convalescent home for injured officers of the Royal Flying Corps.

The lifespan of a pilot in those early days of flight was measured in days and weeks rather than months and years. British pilots, for instance, were not issued with parachutes throughout the whole duration of the war, a luxury bestowed on their French and German counterparts.

This period of the mansion’s history remained elusive for many years until 2012, when staff were contacted by two people who provided photographic archives of their relatives who had recuperated at Heligan. One of those people, Peter Finer, had many images, including a picture of an x-ray taken of his pilot grandfather’s skull prior to an operation in London to insert a metal plate.  Harry Finer was born in Mile End in 1888, married in 1909, and his son Donald, born in 1912, later joined the RAF.

The photographs certainly seem to show Heligan as a convivial place to recover from wounds and injuries. Apart from the beautiful surrounding countryside and coastline, the estate provided its own surprises. The Tremaynes had long been keen and adventurous gardeners but they also kept an eclectic mix of pets. The Heligan photographic archives show us monkeys and emus roaming the wider estate. Peter Finer’s album puts a name to one of the monkeys – Betty – and she certainly gives every indication of being very accustomed to people wandering around her domain.

At the end of the war Heligan reverted back to its country home status, but Jack Tremayne did not stay very long. He said he could not live with the ghosts of the place, particularly after so many of his own estate team had perished in the conflict.

Credit: Lost Gardens of Heligan and Peter Finer